One of the primary aims of the November-December Paris negotiations is to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change through greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Mitigation is included as an objective in Section C of the Paris negotiating text, and is the entire focus of Section D. This article will discuss the latter.
In its draft state, the text has not yet harmonized the “the views and concerns of all countries”, meaning that many provisions are still punctuated with alternate ‘options.’ While this format is a necessary reality of such a large-scale and transparent negotiating process, it means that some sections can be difficult to follow. The range of options often overlap, contradict, and lack any overarching consistency.
The first options presented in Section D are mainly references to the principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on which these negotiations are based. These principles (such as common but differentiated responsibility, and intergenerational equity) have already been acknowledged in the Paris text’s Preamble and Objectives, and seem superfluous here.
The bulk of the section sets up rules around ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’, which are the domestic emission reduction goals required for submission by each State Party. Some of these proposals aren’t particularly contentious, such as the mutual communication of schedules; the establishment of an overseeing secretariat; and the strengthening of existing institutional arrangements. Other provisions, however, vary considerably.
To paint a holistic picture of how these variations could work, this article will present a hypothetical ‘most ambitious’ and ‘least ambitious’ combination of the options; in terms of achieving to the text’s overarching goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees celsius.
Taking the most ambitious options together, the Mitigation provisions are as follows:
- A long term goal of 50% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050 (which is equivalent to 40-70% lower than 2010 levels, or 35-55% below 1990 levels by 2050), and a global emissions budget divided between all parties, corresponding with the requirements of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.
- This includes full decarbonisation for developed nations by by 2050, with emissions peaking by 2015. Developing nations are required to table a “sustainable clear pathway.” (These provisions are similar, although not exactly consistent with equivalent ‘most ambitious’ reductions provided in the Objectives section, indicating the overall lack of cohesion in the draft text.)
- In terms of specific individual contributions, a baseline of at least 25-40% reductions below 1990 levels by 2020 is required for developed parties, which subsequently must be enhanced, published and updated; with all Parties following a common time frame (although, there is no mention of what the time frame is).
- INDCs for all Parties must be “quantifiable, aggregated, comparable, measurable, and reportable”, include a long-term trajectory, and be submitted unconditionally.
- Also included in this section are a set of complex and specific rules around the use of market mechanisms to supplement Parties mitigation efforts.
Compare this to the ‘least ambitious’ options, read together:
- No numerical specifics for long term goals, just a requirement to table an (undefined) “sustainable developing pathway.”
- Contributions are unclear, limited by use of general language such as “shall seek” and “highest possible efforts.”
- INDCs are simply described as “indicative”, they are not based on any complex criteria (merely “national circumstances and capacities”), and they may have conditions attached.
- Developing countries will not have to stick to a common time frame.
- Explicitly no provisions on market mechanisms to assist mitigation measures.
Overall, the variation in Section D is huge. If Paris were to result in the least ambitious outcome contained within the negotiating text, the wording would be so loose and filled with non-specified criteria that the Parties would have neither obligation nor incentive to table NDCs anywhere near what is needed for the 2 degree limit. The most ambitious outcome, in contrast, contains binding numerical contributions for developed nations which fit the 2 degree criteria, and has supporting provisions to ensure smooth implementation. While the requirements under this reading for developing nations are less specific, their contributions are still curated by a comprehensive rules.
Of course, it is artificial to assume that the ‘most/least ambitious’ constructions are a realistic potential outcome of November’s negotiations – that would be to disregard the nature and complexity of the negotiations entirely. Instead, this analysis shows the parameters of what the current text contains. It also shows how much rests on the upcoming negotiations; that the best-case scenario still leaves a gap between the goal and how we will achieve it; and that there are many options still on the table which, if adopted, could render the deal practically ineffective
Simon Hillier | Image by USFS Region 5